Sporting a Shiner

Show truckers earn the right to flaunt their stunning rigs by investing lots of money, innovation and hard work. And one of the biggest parts of that work is polishing metallic surfaces.

Jim Wallace, owner of Chrome Plus in Dallas, says truck show participants are a “special breed. You could probably eat off their motors and frames.”

Their rare enthusiasm prompts elaborate, laborious preparation. “First wash it, then buff it with jeweler’s rouge,” says Robert Young of Okemah, Okla. His tricked-out 1981 Peterbilt cabover, Old School, won its class at the 2004 Pride & Polish at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas.

Young says he and his 15-year-old son, Lucas, put in “25 hours just polishing the aluminum,” using a buffer, to prepare for a show. Then they do it again, by hand. “First the green, then the white on the aluminum,” Young says. “Then we use Long Haul,” he says, referring to his polish of choice. There are two types, one for paint, one for aluminum.

Like some show truckers, Frank Chipman of Princeton, W.Va., customizes his jeweler’s rouge. “I mix both the white and the green with mineral spirits,” Chipman says. “I mix equal parts of them for use on the aluminum.” Chipman’s 2005 Peterbilt 379, Hurricane, took second place in its class at the Dallas show, his first.

“Aluminum is like skin. It has pores,” Chipman explains. The mineral spirits in his polish deep-clean the pores. “Once you get it oozing black, then you know you’re getting a good shine,” he says. He lets it dry before buffing it out with a towel.

“Then I take a dry, terrycloth towel, dab it in some ordinary kitchen flour, and rub that on the aluminum,” Chipman says. “The flour will absorb all the residue from the polish. You got to know how to work with it to get a good shine going, but if you do it right it’s about the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen.”

For painted surfaces, “I just wax and buff like any other vehicle,” Chipman says. “But this is elbow grease, not a buffing wheel.”

Other show participants prefer off-the-shelf products. “We use McGuire’s, a top-of-the-line polish,” says Greg Muirhead of Gun Barrel City, Texas, about his 2004 Kenworth W900. “It brings out the glow and the luster on the painted parts. We use White Diamond on the stainless steel and aluminum.”

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Rusty Wyrick of Mansfield, Ohio, uses two brands of polish on his 1998 Western Star, French Quarters. One is California Customs, which comes in two colors. “One is green, a deoxidizer, and the other is purple. That’s more of a cream.” Wyrick likes Freedom polish for deep cutting. “It’s more of a rouge,” he says. It also has two varieties: Quick and Easy, and Micro Seal. Wyrick says nothing protects better from the rain.

“We’ve only done five shows and got a total of 17 trophies, including five Best in Shows,” Wyrick says.

Wallace sells a lot of What-A-Shine in two versions. “The pink is for aluminum. It already has the wax in it,” he says. “It keeps the aluminum from oxidizing and keeps the water off it.” The green version is wax for painted surfaces.

Others aren’t as picky about brands. “We use several grades of jeweler’s rouge and something to take out all the residue from the buffing wheel and the rouge,” says Cliff Wilkins of Tonkawa, Okla. His 1969 Peterbilt 379, Low Commotion, won Participants’ Choice at Dallas in 2004.

Ken Woods uses “about everything you can think of in polish” on his 1994 Peterbilt 379. “They all seem to work about the same. Some are a little bit more work than others. The directions on the container are the best advice.”

All that polishing pays off, and not just at Pride & Polish, Young says. “It’s a cool ol’ truck,” he says. “Every time I take it somewhere it gets a lot of looks.”

Using the wrong jeweler’s rouge can make that show-quality shine elusive. It could even damage the surface.

“There are four grades of jeweler’s rouge, each designated by a color and suited for a different ‘cut’ or level of abrasiveness,” says Glen English of 4 States Truck Parts in Joplin, Mo. High or heavy cut is high abrasion; low or soft cut is low abrasion.

“You start with your high cut for badly pitted and corroded surfaces,” English says. “The high cut is the dark gray or black rouge. Reddish brown is the medium cut. Green is the low cut, high shine, and white is the very low cut, high shine.”

English also cautions against using the same pad or cloth for each cut. “Use an extra firm to a firm pad for a heavy cut,” he says. “For a medium cut, use a firm to a medium pad, and for a low cut/high shine, use a medium to a soft pad. Use an extra-soft pad for the lowest cut so the pad won’t gouge the metal.”

For soft or extra-soft application, most show truck owners use diapers or other cotton fabrics.

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